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ADOPTION: HEART GALLERY FOUNDATION // AN OFFICIAL FAMILY

As 4-year-olds go, Jadarius' world was pretty full. He had french fries and toy trucks and charisma so captivating that a talent agency put him in its commercial.

But Friday, he took a morning off from preschool to get what was missing: a family.

All he needed was a judge's signature to make his adoption final. Jadarius sat patiently in the judge's chambers, dressed like a grownup in a shirt, tie and pants, yet barely able to see over the big wooden table.

"Do you want to make it forever and ever?" a lady in a watermelon-colored suit asked.

"Yes ma'am," he said softly.

The people who made the moment possible filled the room around him.

There was Jesse Miller and Melissa Twomey, who oversee Tampa's Heart Gallery, a photo exhibit that features foster children looking for permanent homes.

In February, they kicked off the exhibit's third year in Tampa at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County. The display included a photo by Sheri Kendrick, who had played peek-a-boo around trees and benches with Jadarius and then watched his smile fill her frame.

Two married schoolteachers named Dewease and Misty Farrington, interested in adopting children before having their own, wandered into the exhibit. They had seen a child on the Heart Gallery's Web site and came to see him in person.

They learned that child was already getting adopted. But a little boy running around the exhibit in a three-piece suit caught their eye.

In April, the couple brought Jadarius home as a foster child. They filled out all the adoption paperwork, and he filled their lives with his energy and happy chatter.

"He can talk," Dewease chuckled.

"Makes the cups talk to each other," Misty said. "It really doesn't matter."

One rainy Sunday afternoon, in the months before the adoption, the couple heard about auditions at the Act Now talent agency in Seminole. They brought Jadarius by, and the agency ended up casting him in a commercial that same week.

On Friday, Jadarius grabbed the spotlight once again.

Seeing a newspaper photographer's camera pointed at him, the 4-year-old smiled and winked and posed. He entertained himself making faces as adult conversation swirled around him.

Misty asked him if he preferred to celebrate at the Melting Pot or McDonald's.

"The Melting Pot," he said.

Circuit Judge Jack Espinosa Jr. walked in.

He asked everyone giving testimony to raise their right hand and be sworn in. Jadarius raised his hand, too.

Officials said the Farringtons, both 26, had met all requirements for the adoption, the fifth successful Heart Gallery adoption this year. But before the judge signed the final order, they wanted to present the couple with something.

Out came a large portrait of Jadarius, a copy of which now hangs in the Heart Gallery exhibit with a "Found a Family" ribbon attached.

Espinosa invited the little boy to come sit in the judge's chair. Jadarius needed a boost getting up before the judge wrapped his black robe around the boy's shoulders.

The judge handed Jadarius a pen and wrapped his hand around the child's. Together, they signed the adoption order.

"You're official now," Espinosa said.

The bubbly child suddenly got shy. He turned away from the judge and reached for a hug - from his new mother.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.

HOW TO ADOPT

The Heart Gallery Foundation uses portraits such as Jadarius' to help match up children with parents. For more information, please call (813) 204-1792 or e-mail gallerycoordinator@childrensboard.org.

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